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All-Ireland League: Division 1A-2C Promotion/Relegation Play-Off Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 1A-2C Promotion/Relegation Play-Off Previews

Ireland Sevens international Mark Roche tackles Jack Keegan during Blackrock's hard-fought play-off win over Sligo at Stradbrook last Saturday ©Jean McConnell/Sligo RFC

Four promotion/relegation play-off finals are down for decision today in the All-Ireland League, with Seapoint and Round Robin series runners-up Clonmel fighting it out for the last place in Division 2C for next season. The top flight play-off semi-finals also get underway.

ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: Saturday, April 27

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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DIVISION 1A PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF SEMI-FINALS:

UCC (9th, Div 1A) v MALONE (4th, Div 1B), the Mardyke

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: UCC: LLLLLLWLLWWLLWLWLD; Malone: WWLWWWLLLWWWLLLWLW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – UCC: Points: James Taylor 150; Tries: Ryan Murphy 7; Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 75; Tries: Rory Campbell, Peter Cooper, Andy Bryans 4 each

Two league points is all that separated UCC from Division 1A safety. They will hope their season is not encapsulated by Conall Doherty’s late penalty which saw UCD hold Brian Walsh’s youngsters to a draw two weeks ago. This is a blank slate and they need to hit the ground running against Malone, who have made the play-offs in their first season in Division 1B.

The Cork students’ selection shows three personnel changes, the most significant of which sees Munster Academy talent Jack O’Sullivan anchor the back row alongside Ireland Under-20 Grand Slam winner John Hodnett and club captain Daire Feeney. Winger Murray Linn and lock Brian O’Mahony also come in to start.

Jack Owens, who is on the Ulster bench this evening, is replaced in the Malone team by Andy Bryans, their hat-trick hero against Ballymena, who switches to full-back. Rory Campbell and Ben McCaughey fill the wing berths as the two personnel changes, with Nathan Brown joining backs coach Josh Pentland in midfield.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 3, 2015: UCC 33 Malone 21, the Mardyke; Saturday, February 20, 2016: Malone 13 UCC 16, Gibson Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UCC to win

OLD WESLEY (2nd, Div 1B) v NAAS (3rd, Div 1B), Energia Park, Sunday, 4pm

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: WDLWLWLWWWLWWWLWLW; Naas: WWLWWLLLLWDLWLWWWW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Rory Stynes 159; Tries: Paul Harte 6; Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 169; Tries: Andy Ellis 11

The final play-off fixture of the weekend looks the most intriguing one of the lot. Especially as Old Wesley and Naas have already played each other twice this season – the Kildare men winning both, including a 31-23 success in Donnybrook – and Ireland Club XV coaches Morgan Lennon and Johne Murphy pit their wits against each other again.

Wesley’s 31-10 victory over Bateman Cup runners-up City of Armagh earned them home advantage, and Lennon has made three personnel changes for tomorrow with Tom Kiersey, the former Lansdowne and UCC player, returning at out-half and Conor Maguire and Josh Pim both getting the nod in the front row and back row respectively.

Murphy’s Naas team ended the league phase with four straight wins and finished with a division-high seven try-scoring bonus points. Versatile back Peter Osborne led the way in the top two divisions with a superb haul of 169 points, while another of the Cobras’ chief scoring threats is 11-try centre/winger Andy Ellis.

Recent League Meetings – Friday, November 9, 2018: Old Wesley 23 Naas 31, Energia Park; Saturday, March 9, 2019: Naas 7 Old Wesley 5, Forenaughts

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win

DIVISION 1B PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF FINAL:

Navan (3rd, Div 2A) v Queen’s University (4th, Div 2A), Balreask Old

Fresh from claiming the scalp of Buccaneers, Queen’s University are on the road again for a winner-takes-all clash with Navan. Derek Suffern is not expected to tinker too much with the team that won 30-24 in Athlone, although Ulster ‘A’ centre Ben Power is back in the mix after playing for the Ireland Under-19s against France.

Navan, who are gunning for their third promotion in three years, have named an unchanged side following on from last week’s tense 7-3 victory at Cashel. Former Young Munster half-backs Willie Staunton and Brian Haugh lead the back-line, the Cookies’ influence continuing with player-coaches Ray Moloney and James O’Neill both on the bench.

They will be wary of a Queen’s side that have won nine out of their ten league games since mid-January, including last Saturday’s play-off semi-final. The battle for midfield supremacy should be tasty viewing with the highly-rated Rory Bell and Conor McKee going up against Navan’s dynamic duo of Evan Dixon and Riaan van der Vyver.

DIVISION 2A PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF FINAL:

Blackrock College (9th, Div 2A) v Rainey Old Boys (3rd, Div 2B), Stradbrook

Full-back Brian Colclough’s injury-time try, coolly converted by Peter Quirke, saved Blackrock’s bacon against 13-man Sligo last week. Some controversial refereeing decisions aside, Mick Carroll’s charges showed their mettle to come from 27-14 down and reach today’s final as one-point winners.

Visitors Rainey also produced the goods late on at Greystones, triumphing 23-20 thanks to replacement Scott McLean’s decisive penalty goal. The roles were reversed last April when Navan stung the Magherafelt outfit, who were right on the cusp of promotion, with a last-gasp match-winning penalty.

This one is expected to go right down to the wire too. It will be interesting to see what involvement Ireland Sevens internationals Mark Roche and Bryan Mollen have after they were on the ‘Rock bench in their semi-final. Rainey have selected the same team from last week, led by captain Paul Pritchard from the back row.

DIVISION 2B PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF FINAL:

Bruff (3rd, Div 2C) v Malahide (4th, Div 2C), Kilballyowen Park

Securing promotion to Division 2B would be a massive achievement for Bruff, who this time last year were fighting tooth and nail to save their senior status. Noel Davis, Eoin Cahill and Kiwi important Taylor Jones, a key influence at number 8, have got them back competing at the business end of the table.

This is Malahide’s second successive time in the promotion play-off hunt having come up from the junior ranks in 2017. Player-coach Brendan Guilfoyle will be demanding more of the same after their impressive 34-22 semi-final victory at Skerries last Saturday. Former Connacht favourite Danie Poolman and out-half Shane O’Brien played starring roles in the four-try performance.

Mals openside John Shine returns to his old stomping ground of Kilballyowen Park, having previously won the Bateman Cup and played Division 1B rugby with Bruff. The Limerick side won 32-17 when they entertained Guilfoyle’s men in January. One big final push would earn them their tenth and most important home win of the season.

DIVISION 2C PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF FINAL:

Seapoint (9th, Div 2C) v Clonmel (2nd, Round Robin Series), Kilbogget Park

These are always nerve-jangling occasions, an entire season on the line in just 80 minutes. Seapoint have been in the league the last nine years since winning the Round Robin series. They have gone as high as Division 2A, but the current campaign ended on a sour note with defeats to Midleton and Thomond leaving them second-from-bottom.

It is a difficult situation for Eric Miller’s men but Bruff and Sligo have shown them the way, winning this play-off in recent seasons and then bouncing back immediately to compete for promotion and silverware. This shot at a historic All-Ireland League place has been a long time coming for Clonmel, who have been second or third in the Provincial Qualifying League Championship in four of the last five seasons.

Referencing their 28-21 win at Instonians last time out, Clonmel’s Paul Lonergan said: “We were expected to be beaten by Instonians, but we took them on and beat them up front. We’ve got a smashing set of backs too, young Luke Hogan and Luke Noonan. They’re super players and they’re coming on with each game and they definitely want to step up.”